Come Sunday evening, there is more than a reasonable probability that Emmanuel Macron will become the first President of France to be re-elected to office in more than two decades. And while up to 48 million voters in France are eligible to cast ballots in the second and final round of French elections, all of the opinion polls heading into the ballot give the incumbent the edge.
Before last Wednesday’s critical nationally televised debate, Macron held a lead – depending on the sample and methodology of the polling companies – of between 5 and 7 percentage points. That debate, however, changed Macron’s fortunes, proving that he is capable of picking apart the case for the presidency made by Marine Le Pen and the National Rally.
The run-off is a repeat of the resident election five years ago, and in that instance Macron – then a fresh newcomer who had reinvigorated French politics — easily defeated Le Pen by winning two votes at the ballot box for every one cast for the right-wing candidate.
In the televised debate five years ago, Macron’s in-depth knowledge of economic policy easily convinced voters that Le Pen’s support then for leaving the euro and the European Union was flawed and would risk the financial foundations of the French economy.
That performance showed he was the person best-suited to succeed Francois Hollande in the Elysee Palace.
This time around, the televised debate centred on Ukraine and Le Pen’s long-time admiration for President Vladimir Putin of Russia. While she tried to focus the debate on the EU and her plans to revitalise it, she was unable to remove the perception that if elected, she would weaken France’s position with the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation as well as the 26-member EU bloc.
Currently, France is the only nuclear-armed member state of Nato that is also a member of the EU.
Since the military operations began in Ukraine two months ago, Macron has played a leading role in trying to broker a diplomatic end to the conflict.
Over the past five years, Le Pen has remade the image for the Front National, transforming it into National Rally, and giving up on leaving both the EU and the eurozone.
If Macron returns to the Elysee Palace this evening as polls indicate he will indeed do so, he becomes the de facto leader of Europe given that former German Chancellor Angela Merkel has departed the political stage. In that regard, his influence will be greatly required to find a negotiated solution to the conflict in Ukraine.